Spencer Rendahl: Yoga Woes

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Yoga instructor Suzanne Spencer Rendahl
says that for nearly a year, nothing has inspired fear in her classes
like the name "William J. Broad."

Broad is the Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer who
sparked a debate not long ago with his New York Times Magazine article,
"How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body." In it, he implies that millions of
Americans unknowingly jeopardize their health – and possibly their lives
– every time they walk into a yoga class. He warns that students risk
nerve damage, hip degeneration, and strokes with every twist and bend of
class. In his more recent Op-Ed "Wounded Warrior Pose," Broad suggests
that men are more injury-prone than women on the mat. On the other
hand, none other than Broad has celebrated the health benefits of Yoga
in his largely non-sensationalized 2012 book "The Science of Yoga."

practiced safely, Yoga can help you find better balance, strength, and
flexibility – without wrecking your body. But Yoga can indeed be a
strenuous physical workout. So as a teacher charged with keeping
students safe, I ask new students at the beginning of all my classes if
they have any acute or chronic medical conditions. Most say "no" –
including one student who depended on an insulin pump, and another who
didn’t consider repeated shoulder dislocations noteworthy.

my favorite was a new student with a fresh scar peeking out of the neck
of his T-shirt. I wondered how far down his chest it went and asked how
he got it.

"Open heart surgery" he triumphantly replied. "Five weeks ago!"

all of those students benefited from Yoga. But they could just as
easily have ended up in the nearest emergency room – and one of Broad’s
Op-eds – had I not been aware of their health conditions and adjusted my
class plan accordingly.

Practicing Yoga helped me find strength,
flexibility and grace on the mat and in daily life. And in my teaching,
I’ve seen countless people experience similar benefits. I have several
students in their seventies accomplishing things they couldn’t imagine
possible when they started in their sixties.

But it’s a two-way
street. Anything from a funky knee to MS to spinal surgery requires
consultation with the teacher. When I was newly pregnant I wanted to
keep it confidential, so I spoke to my teacher privately before class.

it’s important to know that there’s no national licensing agency or
certification standards for teachers. Certification can mean anything
from many years of education – to just several hours, so it’s wise to
ask where and how the teacher became certified.

We must also be
willing to take personal responsibility for our bodies and our actions.
Broad has acknowledged that his own injury – which helped spark his
writings on the dangers of Yoga – resulted from his focus on a young,
attractive woman in class rather than his own pose.

And you have
to think for yourself andsometimes just say no. I once attended a class
where the teacher announced "if you’re back is hurting, that’s OK. Keep

But I didn’t keep going.

And I didn’t go back.

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